FARC guerrillas initiate public relations war ahead of peace talks

Colombia’s FARC guerrillas yesterday released a video of combatants rapping about forthcoming bilateral peace talks with the government, the details of which President Juan Manuel Santos will confirm at 12.30 today in a special address to the nation.

The process will be long and arduous and the outcome is unknown, but this is the best chance for peace in the history of the near 50 year conflict.

If peace is the end game, this video, which attempts to present a humorous side to the brutal reality of this terrorist group, is the start of a fierce public relations war in which the battle is for the hearts and minds of the 46 million Colombians that make up this Andean nation.

A music video circulated yesterday in which FARC foot-soldiers appear in combat gear and t-shirts marked with the face of the Argentine revolutionary Che Guevarra singing along to a five minute parody of the peace talks scheduled to take place in October.

The film is amusing (but ultimately offensive given its origin) and pokes fun not only at the government, and Colombian society, but also at the guerrilla group itself. No one should be fooled however; this is a clever political broadcast designed to disseminate the FARC’s message ahead of President Santos’ speech to the nation this afternoon.
When the President speaks from the press office of the Casa de Nariño, as millions of Colombians sit down for the traditional family lunch, he is expected to allude to the mistakes of the past, the tragedy and criminality of the war, and point the way to the sunlight uplands of a Colombia in peace. He will be prudent, but optimistic, and ask the nation to join him, to lend him their support and together work to secure a permanent disarmament of the FARC and an end to this pointless and bloody insurgency.
Colombian society is split; for some, the desire for peace does not win over the scepticism and hatred for a duplicitous FARC that has brought misery to the country while it pursues communist revolutionary ends.
Santos has reshuffled his government and prepared a detailed communication strategy to help build popular support which he hopes will fight off the snipping from the sidelines and the fierce opposition to negotiations that ex-president Alvaro Uribe has been fuelling since news of the talks emerged last week.
Polls suggest that, for now, over half the nation support the talks and the efforts of the government to secure peace. As the agenda for the talks becomes known today and as the bitterness increases ahead of the first meeting expect to be in Oslo (later the negotiations will move to Cuba) it is unclear how this generosity of spirit will hold up.
Worse still, once the table is set and the real discussions begin, the distrust and fear will begin in earnest. Will Colombian accept a legitimate political role for the FARC, will they accept reduced sentences for those who have committed crimes against humanity? The campaign run by Uribistas (those loyal to the ex-president) is centred around the simple but effective message – ‘Peace, but not at any price’. It is a message that it already resonating.
Both sides – the government and the FARC – are working to ensure they enter the talks with the best possible hand. Any weakness on either side will be capitalised on. The FARC know that Santos’ mandate is based on the will of the people, and they will fight dirty to move public opinion towards their position, and away from that of the government.
Watching the video (judge for yourself, left) closely it is clear that the FARC are not only attempting to present a human side, attempting to build an empathy with the nation, but they are also satirising the government.
Santos is lampooned as a member of the bourgeoisie, a political oligarch; distant from the working and middle classes. Their message is clear – the FARC represent the ‘pueblo’, and theirs is the same fight as the near 50% of Colombians who live in poverty (pure theatre of course). The president is also given the nickname ‘Chucky’ in an allusion to a popular series of 90s horror films (to whom Santos is alleged to bear an unfortunate liking).
The selection of young – men and women – fighters who look and sound (more or less) like ordinary Colombians is an obvious tactic to increase their reach into an uncertain public, as is the selection of the Che -faced t-shirts.
Guevarra remains an idol among the romantic left and student movements the world over. No matter that he was a murderous supporter of oppressive regimes; his is a ‘fight the system’ narrative that attracts a hippy and pseudo-socialist cult following.
There is little doubt that some in Colombia (and across the world) will identify with these misguided revolutionaries.
At the end of the video, ‘Timochenko’, the supreme leader of the FARC appears to announce that the rebels will enter into the talks without ‘rancour or arrogance’. For him this is a show of willing, a public commitment to the fight for peace. Nevertheless, the bombs and the attacks continue and the FARC are far from anything resembling a cease-fire.
This video is a highly cynical peace of PR. The phony war is over. The fight for peace and public opinion has begun.
As its fades to black, the video leaves us with Timochenko’s promise that victory will be theirs. We must hope he is referring, as Santos did last week, to ‘peace’ as being ‘the victory’. All eyes turn now to President Santos who will take the stage in a matter of minutes.

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Posted by Kevin Howlett from Colombia-Politics


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